MADRID -The Spanish government sacked the country’s spy chief Paz Esteban following the disclosure of the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Spanish officials, a government source told Reuters on Tuesday, confirming a report by El Pais newspaper.
Last month, Canada’s digital rights group Citizen Lab said more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of Pegasus spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group.
This prompted Catalonia’s leftist pro-independence party ERC, a key ally of the Spanish minority government, to say it would not support it until Madrid took measures to restore confidence.
The Spanish government reported days after it had detected the Pegasus spyware in the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles.
Esteban, who took up her position in 2020 after years of service as an agent with the National Intelligence Centre as the spying agency is known, appeared last week before lawmakers in Congress to explain the eavesdropping on Catalan leaders.
The committee at which she appeared is subject to official secrecy but the lawmakers in attendance said Esteban acknowledged that the spy agency wire-tapped 18 pro-independence leaders but always under court order, as the law requires.
As for the rest of the possible eavesdropping, there was no official explanation and the government said it is investigating the allegations, but the unease over the hacking of the prime minister’s mobile phone has been growing.
ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who was jailed for his role in the Catalan secession attempt but later pardoned by the current Socialist government, said his party would resume supporting the government if “responsibilities were assumed”.
ERC legislator Gabriel Rufian supported the decision to sack Esteban.
“(It) seems logical to me and I think it would also be good to declassify some documents and set up an investigation committee,” he told reporters.